Earvin “Magic” Johnson is recognized as one of the best basketball players in the history of the sport. He will also be remembered as the first sports performer of international stature to declare openly that he had contracted the HIV virus.
Magic Johnson was born in the state of Michigan, and quickly rose to fame in the state by becoming an outstanding player for Michigan State. At 6 foot 9 inches, Magic was a formidable player. An enthusiastic sports reporter gave “Magic” the nickname to him during his high school years. During his college years, he developed a rivalry with another future National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar, Larry Bird, then playing for the Indiana State basketball team. Their rivalry would be one of the main forces to generate interest in the NBA in the early 1980s.
During his playing days in the NBA, from 1979 to 1991, Johnson was named the league’s Most Valuable Player three times. He also became attractive to commercial advertisers during a period when it had become less taboo to use African American athletes to endorse products. Johnson, however, was always guarded about his comments regarding racial issues. However, he was active in charity work, and in general maintained a very positive light in the public’s eye throughout his career.
On announcing his retirement, Johnson stated that he had contracted the HIV virus from unprotected heterosexual sex. However, tales and rumours circulated in the press and in popular discourse about Johnson’s sexual exploits during his days as a NBA superstar. Ironically, Johnson, upon retirement, became a spokesperson for safe sex. Another famous sports star, tennis player Martina Navratilova, criticized Johnson and pointed out that if the same comments had been made publicly by a female, she would have been labeled a “slut.” Navratilova probably made a good point. Not only was Johnson’s public image a positive one, but also he was actually seen as a role model for heterosexual family life.
The events and controversies surrounding Johnson’s retirement probably raised his status as an athlete in the public eye, making his career that much more notable. There is little question, then, that the combination of incredible athletic prowess and the events surrounding his retirement will bestow upon Magic Johnson a prestigious position in sports history.